by Len Lear
Want to land tables at Philadelphia’s trendiest restaurants? Score discounted show tickets? Make your apathetic teen’s jaw drop? Keep your toddler busy on a rainy afternoon? Want to be serenaded by future opera stars or enjoy the best cheesesteak, best bread, best shopping outlet, best museums, etc.?
You can find all this information and much more in the just-published “100 Things to Do in Philadelphia Before You Die,” the latest in a national series of travel guides by Reedy Press. The guide was written by Irene Levy Baker, 52, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who has a degree in journalism from the University of Cincinnati. She moved to the Philadelphia area in 1991 when her husband got a job here and immediately started trying to find the best of everything.
Baker lived in Elkins Park from 1991 to last year, when she moved to center city.
Her book includes tips she discovered while working with local tourist bureaus, celebrity chefs, hotels and attractions. She spent nearly a decade at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau before starting Spotlight Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality and restaurants, in 1999.
“Travel writers are the most jaded travelers in the world,” said Baker, who is used to trying to impress travel writers when they visit Philadelphia. “I noted what surprised and delighted them, and I reveal the secrets in this new book.”
The 100 things are divided into five categories — Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Culture and History, Sports and Recreation and Shopping and Fashion. There are also mini-itineraries by season as well as recommendations for young families, families with teens, dates and empty-nesters, and lists of free attractions, activities near the Pennsylvania Convention Center and places featured in movies.
“I’ve been doing the research for this book for 25 years,” Baker told us last week, “and the writing process took about nine months. I didn’t actually KNOW I was researching a book (for 25 years). That’s just how long it took me to get to know Philly well enough that I could actually sit down and write it when the publisher contacted me.
“If I hadn’t already been to most of the places, I never could have completed the book in time. Even though I knew all of the places, I talked to experts, visited and revisited places.”
I could not help wondering what was in this book that people could not find by simply Googling “things to do in Philadelphia?”
“My daughter, a millennial, asked me the same question,” said Baker. “Googling Philadelphia can be like going down a rabbit hole — endless. This book doesn’t contain everything, just the very best.
“If you’re just looking for an afternoon or weekend adventure, you don’t want to spend hours researching. And you can’t be sure if things are as good as they sound on their website. This book gives you a quick, easy way to find the very best things, all pre-tested to make sure they’re really special.”
With each of Baker’s “100 Things,” she includes helpful tips. For example, even the busiest restaurants may hold a few tables aside for walk-ins; or stopping at the Betsy Ross House right at 10 a.m., when you can take part in a charming flag-raising ceremony “with Betsy,” or how to get a glimpse inside the homes on Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest street.
Even in her spare time, Baker is always an urban explorer. “I’m always looking for the newest exhibit, tour, restaurant in Philadelphia,” she said.
“For example, this week I tried two new restaurants, Lou Bird’s and Mission (Neither is in the book because both opened after the book was published), and went to two jazz bars that I’d never been to before.
“I also spent time on Schuylkill River Banks, at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market, shopping on Walnut Street. I like anything having to do with food — eating, cooking, baking, going to Reading Terminal Market or the Italian Market, etc.”
The guide is available online at www.100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia.com for $16 plus tax and shipping. Updates can be found at www.facebook.com/100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia. Baker will have a Launch Party on Thursday, Sept. 15, 6 to 8 p.m., at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, 1310 Drury Lane (between 13th & Juniper, Chestnut & Sansom). She will also have a launch party on Thursday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m., at Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park. More information at firstname.lastname@example.org.